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WNMU faces budget cuts and restructuring

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Western New Mexico University's expected 5 percent enrollment increase this year didn't materialize and WNMU President Joseph Shepard is planning for a long-term restructuring. (Courtesy of WNMU)

Western New Mexico University’s expected 5 percent enrollment increase this year didn’t materialize and WNMU President Joseph Shepard is planning for a long-term restructuring. (Courtesy of WNMU)

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Western New Mexico University plans to slash spending by 4 percent to make ends meet, a move that will likely involve layoffs of faculty and staff, followed by additional job cuts, higher tuition, consolidation of classes and the elimination of less popular courses.

The changes are needed because a projected 5 percent increase in student enrollment did not materialize, WNMU President Joseph Shepard said. The university by the end of this month will cut spending for the remainder of this budget year by more than $1.3 million, he said.

Looking toward the future, the university plans to restructure in ways that will save additional millions of dollars. Many, if not most, of the budgetary moves at the Silver City-based university will likely come in the form of personnel cuts – faculty and staff – although no definite decisions regarding long-term changes will be made until March, Shepard said. The cuts will probably be a combination of layoffs and letting some vacancies remain unfilled.

Already, Shepard said, hiring that was in the works – including the addition of three deans – has been halted. Future moves will likely include consolidating some classes, increasing tuition and eliminating courses that are not in great demand. He declined to say which courses might be targeted.

Along with the budget cuts, the university plans to revamp its long-term strategic plan to bring it more in line with the reality of future student needs.

“Like any business, whether it is the local mine or us, you cannot have expenses exceed revenues and hope to survive in the long run,” Shepard said. “We are not in a financial crisis, but given our early projections, we must act prudently now to ensure that we take corrective budgetary action.”

Rather than “crisis,” Shepard said, he prefers to look at the current situation as a “great opportunity to restructure and do some things differently.” Cutting a budget is never pleasant, he noted, but given the dynamics of enrollment – which is flat at 3,700 students – he said the cuts are necessary.

A projected 5 percent increase in enrollment, based on previous years’ growth, did not occur. In fact, the 5 percent projection was considered conservative in light of last year’s 13.4 percent increase and the 24.8 percent jump over the past five years, Shepard said.

He plans to recommend a “small” increase in tuition to the WNMU Board of Regents, probably 5 percent. Tuition costs at WNMU average about $4,700 annually – compared with $8,800 nationally – and the campus’ student-to-faculty ratio is 13-1, which the president described as “unsustainable.”

“We don’t have any desire to go the double-digit route as many others states have done,” he said about a tuition increase.

More than 80 percent of WNMU’s $30 million operating budget is spent on personnel, so all eyes are focused on eliminating positions. A recent restructuring that would have created five colleges has been put on hold. Western had planned to add four new deans, one of whom has been hired. Advertisements for the other three have been pulled back, and the university is looking at reducing the number of new colleges from four to two. Administrators, with faculty input, will evaluate the need and consider various options, Shepard said.

The university is also scrutinizing 24 faculty positions that were filled over the past two years.

Many of the changes will depend on the Legislature and Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Shepard said Western will be working closely with lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session.

He also said he is monitoring developments at schools from Southern New Hampshire University to Grand Canyon University, where there’s been a big shift toward online education. In five years, Southern New Hampshire increased its enrollment from 2,000 to 3,400, he said.

“We have an obligation to focus on student demand,” Shepard said. Classes with little demand will more than likely be cut in favor of more popular courses and programs. In recent years, some of the more traditional courses have fallen out of student favor, he said without identifying them, while newer offerings, such as masters’ programs in social work and interdisciplinary studies, have grown in popularity.

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